Public and private utilities in the developed world face many challenges. The components of the power grid are getting older and need regular predictive maintenance (PdM) to keep them running efficiently and to avoid costly and dangerous failures. Utilities are running with leaner crews, so staff technicians are stretched to their breaking points. A steady stream of widespread weather-related outages take their toll on the aging power network and are challenging utility crews to keep up with repairs.
As a result, the need for PdM is growing and the resources to perform it are decreasing. Still, it is necessary to conduct regular inspections of all aspects of the power network quickly and accurately so potential problems can be addressed before they become actual problems. At the same time, utilities need to meet increasingly rigorous safety standards for inspecting all phases of the power system. The tools they use for those jobs need to support the safety standards and be intuitive and versatile to keep training costs down and maximize the value of each tool added to their toolbox.
One Tool for Many Utility Applications
One tool that can help utilities meet all those objectives is a handheld thermal imager. Thermal imagers allow the technician to capture two-dimensional representations of the apparent surface temperatures of electrical components and other objects without touching those surfaces and without interfering with target systems. The images and measurements from that testing can help the technician identify problems before they cause damage.
The Fluke TiX1000, TiX660 and TiX640 thermal imagers--part of the Fluke Expert Series line--are for utility applications and allow the technician to work from a safe distance to inspect areas they couldn't otherwise get close enough to inspect. The thermal imagers go wherever the technician goes--from inspecting transmission lines from a helicopter or truck, to scanning live substations on foot, or climbing into a cramped transformer vault.
Expedite PdM and Troubleshooting
The thermal imagers--with their high resolution images, long distance accuracy, thermal sensitivity, advanced focus systems, flexible viewing options and other features--are suited to the challenges of transmission and distribution applications, including the following.
Transmission Line Inspections
Loose contacts, corrosion or internal defects in fittings and weakened or failing cable splices often cause hot spots that pose hazards to the integrity of a power transmission system. In areas subject to high winds and frequent wildfires, this can have catastrophic consequences.
That's why utility companies are vigilant about inspecting their transmission assets to find hot spots before they can cause disasters. In the past, surveying miles of transmission lines through remote and difficult terrain required hiring a helicopter with a fixed mount thermal imager to survey the area. These cameras often only identified anomalies and provided no radiometric data. Getting the data to diagnose the problem often required a second trip or carrying a second, more sophisticated thermal imager.
Another challenge, if there were only a few towers to be inspected, was that the lineman typically had to climb into a bucket and be raised to inspect connection fittings or contacts. This was time consuming and brought workers closer to dangerous high voltage.
The Expert Series thermal imagers help overcome both of those challenges. They deliver high-resolution images and radiometric information at a safe distance with less hassle. Technicians can inspect fittings and splices from the ground using a TiX1000 thermal imager with a telephoto lens to scan up to 115 feet away and zoom in with the 32x zoom lens anywhere they see an anomaly.
For aerial inspections, technicians can carry the TiX thermal imagers on a helicopter and quickly scan miles of transmission lines, using gray scale to locate hot spots, and zooming in on suspect locations to collect high-resolution infrared images with radiometric data. The built-in laser distance meter ensures the focus is where it is intend to be.
Substation or Switchyard Inspection
Substations and switchyards have many complex electrical systems and equipment that handle high voltage. Keeping this equipment running safely and efficiently is critical because a failure can lead to lost production revenue for end users and lost sales revenue and liability issues for a utility.
Keeping substations and switchyards online requires regular PdM to isolate conditions that indicate impending failure. Thermal imagers combined with the skills of an experienced inspector provide the predictive capabilities to fill this role because overheating or abnormally cool operating temperatures may signal degradation of an electrical component. A substation transformer can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, so keeping just one from being destroyed could more than pay for the thermal imager.
Technicians can perform the initial scan of the exterior of the substation from a distance of more than 100 feet. The tiltable color viewfinder of the TiX provides a clear view of the image, even in sunlight. The technician can quickly move through the components, scanning the transmission line feeding the station, the circuit from the transmission line, high side insulators (arrestors) and bushings on the transformer, and the regulators. Moving inside the perimeter, they can inspect the bus work and its bypass switches for hot spots.
The EverSharp multifocal recording mode captures multiple images from varying focal distances with the push of a button. Using algorithms, SmartView software combines those images to create a single image with sharper detail of the initial focal point and of the elements around the focal point.
If the technician finds temperature anomalies at any point, he or she can zoom in on those areas and assign a level of criticality using either spot markers or other annotations. The collected images and measurement data can then be used to create a professional report to document the findings.
Vault Inspection and Troubleshooting
Transformer vaults are typically crammed full of equipment and located below ground level, which makes them difficult to access and even more challenging to safely troubleshoot and maintain. PdM is necessary, however, because failure within a vault can be costly, dangerous and a visible mark against a utility's reputation.
In addition to auto focus capabilities provided by the TiX thermal imagers, there are added features that make them useful for cramped transformer vault applications. Wide angle lenses allow for the quick scan of large areas--especially useful for tight spaces.
Multiply Resources With Connect Wireless Capabilities
With the Fluke Connect mobile app, the technician can transmit images and measurements from the Expert Series thermal imagers in real-time to any smart phone that has the Fluke Connect mobile app. This makes it easy to share results with team members because everybody on the ShareLive video call can see the same images and measurements remotely that the technician is seeing on site (within providers wireless service area). This can help technicians get approvals on the spot and expedite repairs.
Technicians can also save images and measurements from their smart phone to Equipment Log history in secure Fluke Cloud storage for access by all authorized users. In this way, technicians can compare real time measurements to baseline data to identify problems and make better decisions, faster.
In addition, technicians can use SmartView software included with all Fluke thermal imagers to document their findings in a report that includes thermal images, visible light images and blended images to communicate problems they find and suggest repairs.